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(PAUL FRAUGHTON | Tribune file photo) With religious, community, business and government leaders behind him, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert last year signs into law immigration bills passed in the 2011 Legislature. This year's session convenes Monday.
Top issues to watch in the upcoming Utah Legislature
Legislature » From funding more than 12,000 new public school students to permitting private minting of gold coins, session will see avalanche of bills.

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jan 21 2012 08:07 pm • Last Updated Apr 05 2012 11:37 pm

Utah’s 104 legislators return to action beginning Monday, buckling in for a 45-day blitz of lawmaking, budget-writing, speechifying, statesmanship and — at times — political game playing. By the time the final gavel comes down, the state will have hundreds more new laws and commitments to spend close to $13 billion in taxpayer funds. That March 8 midnight deadline is rigid, set in the state Constitution. But some on Utah’s Capitol Hill will be keeping one eye on another date: Nov. 6, when all 75 House members and half of the 29 senators face voters. That looming election is likely to leave its own an imprint on the session, perhaps on the substantial issues of immigration and education, and certainly by way of inspiring a new raft of message bills.

At a glance

Back on the Hill

Utah’s 104 legislators return to action beginning Monday, buckling in for a 45-day blitz of lawmaking, budget-writing, speechifying, statesmanship and — at times — political game playing.

By the time the final gavel comes down, the state will have hundreds more new laws and commitments to spend close to $13 billion in taxpayer funds. That March 8 midnight deadline is rigid, set in the state Constitution.

But some on Utah’s Capitol Hill will be keeping one eye on another date: Nov. 6, when all 75 House members and half of the 29 senators face voters. That looming election is likely to leave its own an imprint on the session, perhaps on the substantial issues of immigration and education, and certainly by way of inspiring a new raft of message bills.

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Education • School budget cuts might not be as big a topic of discussion this session as in years past, but education is sure to remain at the forefront of legislative debate.

Usually by this time each year, state leaders have already started discussing potential cuts to schools. But this year, it appears the state will likely pull in enough revenue to skip talks over doomsday budget scenarios — though money is still tight, and lawmakers will still have to make tough calls on how to slice the pie.

The state school board wants $21.7 million to pay for new technology and computer-adaptive tests for kids, which members say can help teachers better pinpoint students’ strengths and weaknesses. The board’s other priorities include $60 million to pay for 12,479 new students expected to pour into Utah schools in the fall and they want to see the restoration of $8 million cut last session from programs for at-risk students.

Board members also are pushing for $37.3 million to go toward college readiness tests, early childhood education such as extended-day kindergarten, new academic standards, and continuation of an elementary school arts learning program, among other things.

Debates are expected over more than school funding.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, plans to run a bill to create tax credits to help struggling and poor students attend private schools. The proposal — which foes already are calling another student voucher bill — has been dubbed by Stephenson the "Anti-voucher Student Opportunity Scholarship" bill.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, plans to run bills aimed at changing the makeup of the state school board and giving the governor more power over education. And freshman Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, who will chair the Senate Education Committee, has been discussing running a bill that could make changes to teacher employment — an evolving proposal.


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Immigration • The Legislature will tackle immigration for the second year in a row, likely assuring more bitter in-fighting among Republicans as they grapple over E-Verify, the repeal of a guest worker law and an attempt to provide Medicaid coverage for child immigrants.

Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, will take a crack at replacing the controversial HB116, Utah’s guest worker law that is set to take effect in July 2013. It currently would allow undocumented workers in the state — estimated to be anywhere between 100,000 and 120,000 — to pay a fine and establish themselves as legal workers in Utah.

His bill would, among other things, eliminate the trigger start date of July 2013 and instead wait for Congress to approve a pilot program for Utah. It would not allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the state if they have been using stolen Social Security numbers, but would give them time to remove themselves from the state.

However, Herrod’s bill would allow those who entered the country and the state illegally but have never worked using a false Social Security number, to apply for a waiver in Utah that would allow them to eventually obtain a visa.

There is also a likely attempt by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, to simply repeal HB116.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, will push a state E-Verify law that is modeled after Arizona’s.

The bill would allow the state to suspend or revoke business licenses for companies that hired undocumented immigrants and didn’t participate in the government’s E-Verify program.

Utah currently has E-Verify on the books, but it has no penalties for a company failing to use the system designed to verify a person’s legal right to work in the country.

There will also likely be a proposal by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, to provide Medicaid immediately for eligible legal immigrant children — eliminating a current five-year residency requirement.

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